The concept of quality in higher education: expectations and perceptions of key stakeholders in an Australian university

2017-01-16T05:15:24Z (GMT) by Anderson, Mary Gifford
The push toward quality processes in higher education globally, has been at the forefront of national governments' economic agendas for the past two decades. This concentration on the higher education sector has been identified as a direct consequence of the increase in the accessibility and rationalisation of higher education globally, the changing role of national governments and the influence of the market approach to higher education. In Australia, the sector now plays a key role in Australian society and contributes significantly to the national economy. The purpose of this study included examining the concept of quality in institutions of higher education in order to identify the key quality issues currently confronting higher education, to identify the key stakeholders and their expectations and perceptions of quality, and to examine the relationship among these stakeholders and their understanding of the quality processes in higher education using a holistic approach. The identification of processes to enhance the level of service quality within the university was also identified. The study examined the literature on total quality management and its application to institutions of higher education as well as the overall concept of quality in higher education and the need for a clear definition. The study also investigated the need of quality assurance in higher education and its importance in the assessment of the overall quality processes within institutions of higher education. The literature on stakeholder theory was reviewed in terms of the application to higher education. Stakeholders were identified and their roles in higher education were elucidated in order to identify the expectations and perceptions of stakeholders. The study was both quantitative and qualitative. New-to-course postgraduate students (n=181) were surveyed. Academic staff (n=6) involved in teaching postgraduate students and administrative staff n=6) involved in support services to postgraduate students, and employers (n=4) responsible for their organisations' graduate recruitment programs were interviewed. The quantitative data were analysed using SPSS for Windows v17. The qualitative data were analysed using NViv07, to identify themes. Overall, it was found that quality in higher education means different things to different people and, as a consequence, the first step in improving quality in higher education may be to work towards establishing frameworks for quality that are meaningful to all stakeholders. The study found that student stakeholder expectations of quality in higher education mean developing skills which can be utilised in the workplace. The study found that from the employer stakeholder perspective, they had similar expectations to students in regard to skills attainment and employability. For the academic stakeholders, some perceived that developing skills is already part of the program while others took a broader perspective of the role of quality in higher education. Administrator stakeholders identified their role as facilitating quality by providing excellent customer service. It is recommended that new-to-course postgraduate students' expectations and perceptions of the level of service quality at the end of their programs are surveyed in order to identify any 'gap' in the service provided. Achieving quality in postgraduate programs may require a cultural shift in the university to enable it to provide effective supporting structures to achieve a high standard of quality in program delivery by academics. In terms of administrators, sufficient resources need to be provided to ensure a high quality of professional service to all stakeholders. Employers should be encouraged to participate in advisory committees and establish connections with academics in order to provide relevancy to business programs from a key external stakeholder.